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1.  Autophagy requires endoplasmic reticulum targeting of the PI3-kinase complex via Atg14L 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2010;190(4):511-521.
Generation of PI3P in the normally PI3P-deficient ER membrane makes the organelle a platform for autophagosome formation.
Autophagy is a catabolic process that allows cells to digest their cytoplasmic constituents via autophagosome formation and lysosomal degradation. Recently, an autophagy-specific phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-kinase) complex, consisting of hVps34, hVps15, Beclin-1, and Atg14L, has been identified in mammalian cells. Atg14L is specific to this autophagy complex and localizes to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Knockdown of Atg14L leads to the disappearance of the DFCP1-positive omegasome, which is a membranous structure closely associated with both the autophagosome and the ER. A point mutation in Atg14L resulting in defective ER localization was also defective in the induction of autophagy. The addition of the ER-targeting motif of DFCP1 to this mutant fully complemented the autophagic defect in Atg14L knockout embryonic stem cells. Thus, Atg14L recruits a subset of class III PI3-kinase to the ER, where otherwise phosphatidylinositol 3-phosphate (PI3P) is essentially absent. The Atg14L-dependent appearance of PI3P in the ER makes this organelle the platform for autophagosome formation.
doi:10.1083/jcb.200911141
PMCID: PMC2928018  PMID: 20713597
2.  The actin cytoskeleton participates in the early events of autophagosome formation upon starvation induced autophagy 
Autophagy  2012;8(11):1590-1603.
Autophagy is a process by which cytoplasmic material is sequestered in a double-membrane vesicle destined for degradation. Nutrient deprivation stimulates the pathway and the number of autophagosomes in the cell increases in response to such stimulus. In the current report we have demonstrated that actin is necessary for starvation-mediated autophagy. When the actin cytoskeleton is depolymerized, the increase in autophagic vacuoles in response to the starvation stimulus was abolished without affecting maturation of remaining autophagosomes. In addition, actin filaments colocalized with ATG14, BECN1/Beclin1 and PtdIns3P-rich structures, and some of them have a typical omegasome shape stained with the double FYVE domain or ZFYVE1/DFCP1. In contrast, no major colocalization between actin and ULK1, ULK2, ATG5 or MAP1LC3/LC3 was observed. Taken together, our data indicate that actin has a role at very early stages of autophagosome formation linked to the PtdIns3P generation step. In addition, we have found that two members of the Rho family of proteins, RHOA and RAC1 have a regulatory function on starvation-mediated autophagy, but with opposite roles. Indeed, RHOA has an activatory role whereas Rac has an inhibitory one. We have also found that inhibition of the RHOA effector ROCK impaired the starvation-mediated autophagic response. We propose that actin participates in the initial membrane remodeling stage when cells require an enhanced rate of autophagosome formation, and this actin function would be tightly regulated by different members of the Rho family.
doi:10.4161/auto.21459
PMCID: PMC3494589  PMID: 22863730
autophagosome formation; starvation; actin; RHOA; RAC1; ROCK
3.  The ER–Golgi intermediate compartment is a key membrane source for the LC3 lipidation step of autophagosome biogenesis 
eLife  2013;2:e00947.
Autophagy is a catabolic process for bulk degradation of cytosolic materials mediated by double-membraned autophagosomes. The membrane determinant to initiate the formation of autophagosomes remains elusive. Here, we establish a cell-free assay based on LC3 lipidation to define the organelle membrane supporting early autophagosome formation. In vitro LC3 lipidation requires energy and is subject to regulation by the pathways modulating autophagy in vivo. We developed a systematic membrane isolation scheme to identify the endoplasmic reticulum–Golgi intermediate compartment (ERGIC) as a primary membrane source both necessary and sufficient to trigger LC3 lipidation in vitro. Functional studies demonstrate that the ERGIC is required for autophagosome biogenesis in vivo. Moreover, we find that the ERGIC acts by recruiting the early autophagosome marker ATG14, a critical step for the generation of preautophagosomal membranes.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00947.001
eLife digest
Cells continually adapt their behavior to accommodate changes in their environment. For example, when nutrients are abundant, cells can grow or proliferate; in times of scarcity, however, they must conserve resources for essential tasks. In particular, during periods of starvation, cells can cannibalize themselves in a process called autophagy, which literally means ‘self-eating’. Structures called autophagosomes engulf bits of cytoplasm and carry the contents to the digestive compartment of the cell, the lysosome, to be broken down into their constituent parts. This can include the degradation of proteins into amino acids, which can then be recycled into other proteins needed by the cell.
In cells, proteins are shipped to their destinations—which can be the plasma membrane or a specific organelle within the cell—via a delivery system known as the secretory pathway. This pathway begins in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), where many of these proteins are made. From the ER, the proteins move to a compartment called the Golgi apparatus, which then sends them to their destinations, or to the lysosome to be broken down. Between the ER and Golgi they pass through a structure called the ER–Golgi intermediate compartment (ERGIC).
Although the signaling pathways that initiate autophagy are known, less is understood about the actual formation of the autophagosomes. Now, Ge et al. have developed an in vitro system to study their formation, and gone on to identify a membrane that is both necessary and sufficient to create these structures.
Previous studies have implicated a variety of membranes—including the plasma membrane and the membranes belonging to the ER, the Golgi apparatus, the lysosome and various other organelles—in the formation of autophagosomes. To identify which of these membranes might be involved, Ge et al. focused on a protein called LC3 that is a key marker for the formation of the autophagosome. This protein is recruited to the growing autophagosome by a lipid, so discovering which membranes can add a lipid to LC3 should shed light on the assembly process.
By separating the full range of organelles in a cell lysate into fractions (a process called fractionation), Ge et al. found that the ERGIC was the most active membrane to attach lipid to LC3. Additionally, the lipid was only added when signaling pathways that stimulate autophagy—such as the PI3K pathway—were activated. Together, these results provide insight into the mechanism of autophagosome formation, and the structures in the cell that participate in this process.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00947.002
doi:10.7554/eLife.00947
PMCID: PMC3736544  PMID: 23930225
autophagy; ER–Golgi intermediate compartment; LC3 lipidation; autophagosome; Human; Mouse
4.  WIPI2 Links LC3 Conjugation with PI3P, Autophagosome Formation, and Pathogen Clearance by Recruiting Atg12–5-16L1 
Molecular Cell  2014;55(2):238-252.
Summary
Mammalian cell homeostasis during starvation depends on initiation of autophagy by endoplasmic reticulum-localized phosphatidylinositol 3-phosphate (PtdIns(3)P) synthesis. Formation of double-membrane autophagosomes that engulf cytosolic components requires the LC3-conjugating Atg12–5-16L1 complex. The molecular mechanisms of Atg12–5-16L1 recruitment and significance of PtdIns(3)P synthesis at autophagosome formation sites are unknown. By identifying interacting partners of WIPIs, WD-repeat PtdIns(3)P effector proteins, we found that Atg16L1 directly binds WIPI2b. Mutation experiments and ectopic localization of WIPI2b to plasma membrane show that WIPI2b is a PtdIns(3)P effector upstream of Atg16L1 and is required for LC3 conjugation and starvation-induced autophagy through recruitment of the Atg12–5-16L1 complex. Atg16L1 mutants, which do not bind WIPI2b but bind FIP200, cannot rescue starvation-induced autophagy in Atg16L1-deficient MEFs. WIPI2b is also required for autophagic clearance of pathogenic bacteria. WIPI2b binds the membrane surrounding Salmonella and recruits the Atg12–5-16L1 complex, initiating LC3 conjugation, autophagosomal membrane formation, and engulfment of Salmonella.
Graphical Abstract
Highlights
•WIPI2 binds Atg16L1 directly and recruits the Atg12–5-16L1 complex•WIPI2 binding to Atg16L1 is required for LC3 lipidation and autophagosome formation•WIPI2-Atg16L1 function requires PI3P binding by WIPI2 and is independent of FIP200•Autophagosomal engulfment of Salmonella requires the WIPI2-Atg16L1 complex
Starvation-induced autophagy requires PtdIns(3)P locally produced on ER-derived membranes. Dooley et al. demonstrate that the PtdIns(3)P effector WIPI2b binds Atg16L1 to recruit Atg12–5-16L1 to PtdIns(3)P-positive omegasomes, resulting in LC3 lipidation and starvation-induced autophagy. These findings suggest that WIPI2b senses increases in PtdIns(3)P and directs LC3 conjugation to developing autophagosomes.
doi:10.1016/j.molcel.2014.05.021
PMCID: PMC4104028  PMID: 24954904
5.  Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus Induces Autophagosomes during Cell Entry via a Class III Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase-Independent Pathway 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(23):12940-12953.
Autophagy is an intracellular pathway that can contribute to innate antiviral immunity by delivering viruses to lysosomes for degradation or can be beneficial for viruses by providing specialized membranes for virus replication. Here, we show that the picornavirus foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) induces the formation of autophagosomes. Induction was dependent on Atg5, involved processing of LC3 to LC3II, and led to a redistribution of LC3 from the cytosol to punctate vesicles indicative of authentic autophagosomes. Furthermore, FMDV yields were reduced in cells lacking Atg5, suggesting that autophagy may facilitate FMDV infection. However, induction of autophagosomes by FMDV appeared to differ from starvation, as the generation of LC3 punctae was not inhibited by wortmannin, implying that FMDV-induced autophagosome formation does not require the class III phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-kinase) activity of vps34. Unlike other picornaviruses, for which there is strong evidence that autophagosome formation is linked to expression of viral nonstructural proteins, FMDV induced autophagosomes very early during infection. Furthermore, autophagosomes could be triggered by either UV-inactivated virus or empty FMDV capsids, suggesting that autophagosome formation was activated during cell entry. Unlike other picornaviruses, FMDV-induced autophagosomes did not colocalize with the viral 3A or 3D protein. In contrast, ∼50% of the autophagosomes induced by FMDV colocalized with VP1. LC3 and VP1 also colocalized with the cellular adaptor protein p62, which normally targets ubiquitinated proteins to autophagosomes. These results suggest that FMDV induces autophagosomes during cell entry to facilitate infection, but not to provide membranes for replication.
doi:10.1128/JVI.00846-12
PMCID: PMC3497631  PMID: 22993157
6.  Visualizing the autophagy pathway in avian cells and its application to studying infectious bronchitis virus 
Autophagy  2013;9(4):496-509.
Autophagy is a highly conserved cellular response to starvation that leads to the degradation of organelles and long-lived proteins in lysosomes and is important for cellular homeostasis, tissue development and as a defense against aggregated proteins, damaged organelles and infectious agents. Although autophagy has been studied in many animal species, reagents to study autophagy in avian systems are lacking. Microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 (MAP1LC3/LC3) is an important marker for autophagy and is used to follow autophagosome formation. Here we report the cloning of avian LC3 paralogs A, B and C from the domestic chicken, Gallus gallus domesticus, and the production of replication-deficient, recombinant adenovirus vectors expressing these avian LC3s tagged with EGFP and FLAG-mCherry. An additional recombinant adenovirus expressing EGFP-tagged LC3B containing a G120A mutation was also generated. These vectors can be used as tools to visualize autophagosome formation and fusion with endosomes/lysosomes in avian cells and provide a valuable resource for studying autophagy in avian cells. We have used them to study autophagy during replication of infectious bronchitis virus (IBV). IBV induced autophagic signaling in mammalian Vero cells but not primary avian chick kidney cells or the avian DF1 cell line. Furthermore, induction or inhibition of autophagy did not affect IBV replication, suggesting that classical autophagy may not be important for virus replication. However, expression of IBV nonstructural protein 6 alone did induce autophagic signaling in avian cells, as seen previously in mammalian cells. This may suggest that IBV can inhibit or control autophagy in avian cells, although IBV did not appear to inhibit autophagy induced by starvation or rapamycin treatment.
doi:10.4161/auto.23465
PMCID: PMC3627666  PMID: 23328491
chicken; avian; GFP-LC3; autophagy; primary cells; recombinant adenovirus; coronavirus; infectious bronchitis virus; LC3A; LC3B; LC3C
7.  A Cluster of Thin Tubular Structures Mediates Transformation of the Endoplasmic Reticulum to Autophagic Isolation Membrane 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2014;34(9):1695-1706.
Recent findings have suggested that the autophagic isolation membrane (IM) might originate from a domain of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) called the omegasome. However, the morphological relationships between ER, omegasome, and IM remain unclear. In the present study, we found that hybrid structures composed of a double FYVE domain-containing protein 1 (DFCP1)-positive omegasome and the IM accumulated in Atg3-deficient mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs). Moreover, correlative light and electron microscopy and immunoelectron microscopy revealed that green fluorescent protein (GFP)-tagged DFCP1 was localized on tubular or vesicular elements adjacent to the IM rims. Through detailed morphological analyses, including optimization of a fixation method and electron tomography, we observed a cluster of thin tubular structures between the IM edges and ER, part of which were continuous with IM and/or ER. The formation of these thin tubular clusters was observed in several cell lines and MEFs deficient for Atg5, Atg7, or Atg16L1 but not in FIP200-deficient cells, suggesting that they were relevant to the earlier events in autophagosome formation. Taken together, our findings indicate that these tubular profiles represent a part of the omegasome that links the ER with the IM.
doi:10.1128/MCB.01327-13
PMCID: PMC3993601  PMID: 24591649
8.  Diverse Autophagosome Membrane Sources Coalesce in Recycling Endosomes 
Cell  2013;154(6):1285-1299.
Summary
Autophagic protein degradation is mediated by autophagosomes that fuse with lysosomes, where their contents are degraded. The membrane origins of autophagosomes may involve multiple sources. However, it is unclear if and where distinct membrane sources fuse during autophagosome biogenesis. Vesicles containing mATG9, the only transmembrane autophagy protein, are seen in many sites, and fusions with other autophagic compartments have not been visualized in mammalian cells. We observed that mATG9 traffics from the plasma membrane to recycling endosomes in carriers that appear to be routed differently from ATG16L1-containing vesicles, another source of autophagosome membrane. mATG9- and ATG16L1-containing vesicles traffic to recycling endosomes, where VAMP3-dependent heterotypic fusions occur. These fusions correlate with autophagosome formation, and both processes are enhanced by perturbing membrane egress from recycling endosomes. Starvation, a primordial autophagy activator, reduces membrane recycling from recycling endosomes and enhances mATG9-ATG16L1 vesicle fusion. Thus, this mechanism may fine-tune physiological autophagic responses.
Graphical Abstract
Highlights
•mATG9 traffics from the plasma membrane to recycling endosomes•mATG9 vesicles fuse with ATG16L1 vesicles in recycling endosomes•VAMP3, Rab11, myosin Vb, and starvation regulate mATG9-ATG16L1 vesicle fusion•mATG9-ATG16L1 vesicle fusions regulate autophagosome formation
Autophagosome membranes that originate in different cellular compartments follow distinct routes to recycling endosomes, where they fuse to form autophagosome precursors.
doi:10.1016/j.cell.2013.08.044
PMCID: PMC3791395  PMID: 24034251
9.  A novel ER-localized transmembrane protein, EMC6, interacts with RAB5A and regulates cell autophagy 
Autophagy  2013;9(2):150-163.
Autophagy is mediated by a unique organelle, the autophagosome, which encloses a portion of the cytoplasm for delivery to the lysosome. Phosphatidylinositol 3-phosphate (PtdIns3P) produced by the class III phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PtdIns3K) complex is essential for canonical autophagosome formation. RAB5A, a small GTPase localized to early endosomes, has been shown to associate with the class III PtdIns3K complex, regulate its activity and promote autophagosome formation. However, little is known about how endosome-localized RAB5A functions with the class III PtdIns3K complex. Here we identified a novel endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-localized transmembrane protein, ER membrane protein complex subunit 6 (EMC6), which interacted with both RAB5A and BECN1/Beclin 1 and colocalized with the omegasome marker ZFYVE1/DFCP1. It was shown to regulate autophagosome formation, and its deficiency caused the accumulation of autophagosomal precursor structures and impaired autophagy. Our study showed for the first time that EMC6 is a novel regulator involved in autophagy.
doi:10.4161/auto.22742
PMCID: PMC3552880  PMID: 23182941
EMC6; autophagy; RAB5A; BECN1; endoplasmic reticulum
10.  The Cellular RNA Helicase DDX1 Interacts with Coronavirus Nonstructural Protein 14 and Enhances Viral Replication▿  
Journal of Virology  2010;84(17):8571-8583.
The involvement of host proteins in the replication and transcription of viral RNA is a poorly understood area for many RNA viruses. For coronaviruses, it was long speculated that replication of the giant RNA genome and transcription of multiple subgenomic mRNA species by a unique discontinuous transcription mechanism may require host cofactors. To search for such cellular proteins, yeast two-hybrid screening was carried out by using the nonstructural protein 14 (nsp14) from the coronavirus infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) as a bait protein, leading to the identification of DDX1, a cellular RNA helicase in the DExD/H helicase family, as a potential interacting partner. This interaction was subsequently confirmed by coimmunoprecipitation assays with cells coexpressing the two proteins and with IBV-infected cells. Furthermore, the endogenous DDX1 protein was found to be relocated from the nucleus to the cytoplasm in IBV-infected cells. In addition to its interaction with IBV nsp14, DDX1 could also interact with the nsp14 protein from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), suggesting that interaction with DDX1 may be a general feature of coronavirus nsp14. The interacting domains were mapped to the C-terminal region of DDX1 containing motifs V and VI and to the N-terminal portion of nsp14. Manipulation of DDX1 expression, either by small interfering RNA-induced knockdown or by overexpression of a mutant DDX1 protein, confirmed that this interaction may enhance IBV replication. This study reveals that DDX1 contributes to efficient coronavirus replication in cell culture.
doi:10.1128/JVI.00392-10
PMCID: PMC2918985  PMID: 20573827
11.  Autophagosome Precursor Maturation Requires Homotypic Fusion 
Cell  2011;146(2):303-317.
Summary
Autophagy is a catabolic process in which lysosomes degrade intracytoplasmic contents transported in double-membraned autophagosomes. Autophagosomes are formed by the elongation and fusion of phagophores, which can be derived from preautophagosomal structures coming from the plasma membrane and other sites like the endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria. The mechanisms by which preautophagosomal structures elongate their membranes and mature toward fully formed autophagosomes still remain unknown. Here, we show that the maturation of the early Atg16L1 precursors requires homotypic fusion, which is essential for subsequent autophagosome formation. Atg16L1 precursor homotypic fusion depends on the SNARE protein VAMP7 together with partner SNAREs. Atg16L1 precursor homotypic fusion is a critical event in the early phases of autophagy that couples membrane acquisition and autophagosome biogenesis, as this step regulates the size of the vesicles, which in turn appears to influence their subsequent maturation into LC3-positive autophagosomes.
Graphical Abstract
Highlights
► Homotypic fusion of Atg16L1 vesicles enables their maturation into autophagosomes ► VAMP7 regulates Atg16L1 vesicle homotypic fusion and autophagosome formation ► Plasma membrane is a likely source of SNAREs required for Atg16L1 vesicle fusion ► Starvation, which induces autophagy, triggers Atg16L1 vesicle homotypic fusion
doi:10.1016/j.cell.2011.06.023
PMCID: PMC3171170  PMID: 21784250
12.  Biochemical and Structural Insights into the Mechanisms of SARS Coronavirus RNA Ribose 2′-O-Methylation by nsp16/nsp10 Protein Complex 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(10):e1002294.
The 5′-cap structure is a distinct feature of eukaryotic mRNAs, and eukaryotic viruses generally modify the 5′-end of viral RNAs to mimic cellular mRNA structure, which is important for RNA stability, protein translation and viral immune escape. SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) encodes two S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM)-dependent methyltransferases (MTase) which sequentially methylate the RNA cap at guanosine-N7 and ribose 2′-O positions, catalyzed by nsp14 N7-MTase and nsp16 2′-O-MTase, respectively. A unique feature for SARS-CoV is that nsp16 requires non-structural protein nsp10 as a stimulatory factor to execute its MTase activity. Here we report the biochemical characterization of SARS-CoV 2′-O-MTase and the crystal structure of nsp16/nsp10 complex bound with methyl donor SAM. We found that SARS-CoV nsp16 MTase methylated m7GpppA-RNA but not m7GpppG-RNA, which is in contrast with nsp14 MTase that functions in a sequence-independent manner. We demonstrated that nsp10 is required for nsp16 to bind both m7GpppA-RNA substrate and SAM cofactor. Structural analysis revealed that nsp16 possesses the canonical scaffold of MTase and associates with nsp10 at 1∶1 ratio. The structure of the nsp16/nsp10 interaction interface shows that nsp10 may stabilize the SAM-binding pocket and extend the substrate RNA-binding groove of nsp16, consistent with the findings in biochemical assays. These results suggest that nsp16/nsp10 interface may represent a better drug target than the viral MTase active site for developing highly specific anti-coronavirus drugs.
Author Summary
The distinctive feature of eukaryotic mRNAs is the presence of methylated cap structure that is required for mRNA stability and protein translation. As all viruses employ cellular ribosomes for protein translation, most cytoplasmically replicating eukaryotic viruses including coronaviruses have evolved strategies to cap their RNAs. It was shown very recently that ribose 2′-O-methylation in the cap structure of viral RNAs plays an important role in viral escape from innate immune recognition. The 2′-O-methyltransferase (2′-O-MTase) encoded by SARS coronavirus is composed of two subunits, the catalytic subunit nsp16 and the stimulatory subunit nsp10, which is different from all other known 2′-O-MTases that are partner-independent. Here we show that the role of nsp10 is to promote nsp16 to bind capped RNA substrate and the methyl donor S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM). We solved the crystal structure of the nsp16/nsp10/SAM complex, and the structural analysis revealed that the details of the inter-molecular interactions and indicated that nsp10 may stabilize the SAM-binding pocket and extend the capped RNA-binding groove. The interaction interface of nsp16/nsp10 is unique for coronaviruses and thus may provide an attractive target for developing specific antiviral drugs for control of coronaviruses including the deadly SARS coronavirus.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1002294
PMCID: PMC3192843  PMID: 22022266
13.  In Vitro Reconstitution of SARS-Coronavirus mRNA Cap Methylation 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(4):e1000863.
SARS-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) genome expression depends on the synthesis of a set of mRNAs, which presumably are capped at their 5′ end and direct the synthesis of all viral proteins in the infected cell. Sixteen viral non-structural proteins (nsp1 to nsp16) constitute an unusually large replicase complex, which includes two methyltransferases putatively involved in viral mRNA cap formation. The S-adenosyl-L-methionine (AdoMet)-dependent (guanine-N7)-methyltransferase (N7-MTase) activity was recently attributed to nsp14, whereas nsp16 has been predicted to be the AdoMet-dependent (nucleoside-2′O)-methyltransferase. Here, we have reconstituted complete SARS-CoV mRNA cap methylation in vitro. We show that mRNA cap methylation requires a third viral protein, nsp10, which acts as an essential trigger to complete RNA cap-1 formation. The obligate sequence of methylation events is initiated by nsp14, which first methylates capped RNA transcripts to generate cap-0 7MeGpppA-RNAs. The latter are then selectively 2′O-methylated by the 2′O-MTase nsp16 in complex with its activator nsp10 to give rise to cap-1 7MeGpppA2′OMe-RNAs. Furthermore, sensitive in vitro inhibition assays of both activities show that aurintricarboxylic acid, active in SARS-CoV infected cells, targets both MTases with IC50 values in the micromolar range, providing a validated basis for anti-coronavirus drug design.
Author Summary
In 2003, an emerging coronavirus (CoV) was identified as the etiological agent of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). SARS-CoV replicates and transcribes its large RNA genome using a membrane-bound enzyme complex containing a variety of viral nonstructural proteins. A critical step during RNA synthesis is the addition of a cap structure to the newly produced viral mRNAs, ensuring their efficient translation by host cell ribosomes. Viruses generally acquire their cap structure either from cellular mRNAs (e.g., “cap snatching” of influenza virus) or employ their own capping machinery, as is supposed to be the case for coronaviruses. mRNA caps synthesized by viruses are structurally and functionally undistinguishable from cellular mRNAs caps. In coronaviruses, methylation of mRNA caps seems to be essential, since mutations in viral methyltransferases nsp14 or nsp16 render non-viable virus. We have discovered an unexpected key role for SARS-CoV nsp10, a protein of previously unknown function, within mRNA cap methylation. Nsp10 induces selective 2′O-methylation of guanine-N7 methylated capped RNAs through direct activation of the otherwise inactive nsp16. This finding allows the full reconstitution of the SARS-CoV mRNA cap methylation sequence in vitro and opens the way to exploit the mRNA cap methyltransferases as targets for anti-coronavirus drug design.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000863
PMCID: PMC2858705  PMID: 20421945
14.  Autophagy Protein Atg3 is Essential for Maintaining Mitochondrial Integrity and for Normal Intracellular Development of Toxoplasma gondii Tachyzoites 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(12):e1002416.
Autophagy is a cellular process that is highly conserved among eukaryotes and permits the degradation of cellular material. Autophagy is involved in multiple survival-promoting processes. It not only facilitates the maintenance of cell homeostasis by degrading long-lived proteins and damaged organelles, but it also plays a role in cell differentiation and cell development. Equally important is its function for survival in stress-related conditions such as recycling of proteins and organelles during nutrient starvation. Protozoan parasites have complex life cycles and face dramatically changing environmental conditions; whether autophagy represents a critical coping mechanism throughout these changes remains poorly documented. To investigate this in Toxoplasma gondii, we have used TgAtg8 as an autophagosome marker and showed that autophagy and the associated cellular machinery are present and functional in the parasite. In extracellular T. gondii tachyzoites, autophagosomes were induced in response to amino acid starvation, but they could also be observed in culture during the normal intracellular development of the parasites. Moreover, we generated a conditional T. gondii mutant lacking the orthologue of Atg3, a key autophagy protein. TgAtg3-depleted parasites were unable to regulate the conjugation of TgAtg8 to the autophagosomal membrane. The mutant parasites also exhibited a pronounced fragmentation of their mitochondrion and a drastic growth phenotype. Overall, our results show that TgAtg3-dependent autophagy might be regulating mitochondrial homeostasis during cell division and is essential for the normal development of T. gondii tachyzoites.
Author Summary
Autophagy is a catabolic process involved in maintaining cellular homeostasis in eukaryotic cells, while coping with their changing environmental conditions. Mechanistically, it is also a process of considerable complexity involving multiple protein factors and implying numerous protein-protein and protein-membrane interactions. The cellular material to be degraded by autophagy is contained in a membrane-bound compartment called the autophagosome. We have characterised the formation of autophagosomes in the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii by following the relocalisation of autophagosome-bound TgAtg8. Thus, exploiting GFP-TgAtg8 as a marker, we showed that it is a process that is regulated and can be induced artificially by amino acid starvation. Autophagic vesicles were also observed in normally dividing intracellular parasites. Depleting Toxoplasma of the TgAtg3 autophagy protein led to an impairment of TgAtg8 conjugation to the autophagosomal membrane and, at the cellular level, to a fragmentation of the single mitochondrion of the parasite and to a severe growth arrest. We have thus found that TgAtg3-dependent autophagy is essential for normal intracellular development of T. gondii tachyzoites.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1002416
PMCID: PMC3228817  PMID: 22144900
15.  Infectious Bronchitis Virus Generates Spherules from Zippered Endoplasmic Reticulum Membranes 
mBio  2013;4(5):e00801-13.
ABSTRACT
Replication of positive-sense RNA viruses is associated with the rearrangement of cellular membranes. Previous work on the infection of tissue culture cell lines with the betacoronaviruses mouse hepatitis virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) showed that they generate double-membrane vesicles (DMVs) and convoluted membranes as part of a reticular membrane network. Here we describe a detailed study of the membrane rearrangements induced by the avian gammacoronavirus infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) in a mammalian cell line but also in primary avian cells and in epithelial cells of ex vivo tracheal organ cultures. In all cell types, structures novel to IBV infection were identified that we have termed zippered endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and spherules. Zippered ER lacked luminal space, suggesting zippering of ER cisternae, while spherules appeared as uniform invaginations of zippered ER. Electron tomography showed that IBV-induced spherules are tethered to the zippered ER and that there is a channel connecting the interior of the spherule with the cytoplasm, a feature thought to be necessary for sites of RNA synthesis but not seen previously for membrane rearrangements induced by coronaviruses. We also identified DMVs in IBV-infected cells that were observed as single individual DMVs or were connected to the ER via their outer membrane but not to the zippered ER. Interestingly, IBV-induced spherules strongly resemble confirmed sites of RNA synthesis for alphaviruses, nodaviruses, and bromoviruses, which may indicate similar strategies of IBV and these diverse viruses for the assembly of RNA replication complexes.
IMPORTANCE All positive-sense single-stranded RNA viruses induce rearranged cellular membranes, providing a platform for viral replication complex assembly and protecting viral RNA from cellular defenses. We have studied the membrane rearrangements induced by an important poultry pathogen, the gammacoronavirus infectious bronchitis virus (IBV). Previous work studying closely related betacoronaviruses identified double-membrane vesicles (DMVs) and convoluted membranes (CMs) derived from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in infected cells. However, the role of DMVs and CMs in viral RNA synthesis remains unclear because these sealed vesicles lack a means of delivering viral RNA to the cytoplasm. Here, we characterized structures novel to IBV infection: zippered ER and small vesicles tethered to the zippered ER termed spherules. Significantly, spherules contain a channel connecting their interior to the cytoplasm and strongly resemble confirmed sites of RNA synthesis for other positive-sense RNA viruses, making them ideal candidates for the site of IBV RNA synthesis.
IMPORTANCE
All positive-sense single-stranded RNA viruses induce rearranged cellular membranes, providing a platform for viral replication complex assembly and protecting viral RNA from cellular defenses. We have studied the membrane rearrangements induced by an important poultry pathogen, the gammacoronavirus infectious bronchitis virus (IBV). Previous work studying closely related betacoronaviruses identified double-membrane vesicles (DMVs) and convoluted membranes (CMs) derived from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in infected cells. However, the role of DMVs and CMs in viral RNA synthesis remains unclear because these sealed vesicles lack a means of delivering viral RNA to the cytoplasm. Here, we characterized structures novel to IBV infection: zippered ER and small vesicles tethered to the zippered ER termed spherules. Significantly, spherules contain a channel connecting their interior to the cytoplasm and strongly resemble confirmed sites of RNA synthesis for other positive-sense RNA viruses, making them ideal candidates for the site of IBV RNA synthesis.
doi:10.1128/mBio.00801-13
PMCID: PMC3812713  PMID: 24149513
16.  Rotavirus NSP4 Induces a Novel Vesicular Compartment Regulated by Calcium and Associated with Viroplasms 
Journal of Virology  2006;80(12):6061-6071.
Rotavirus is a major cause of infantile viral gastroenteritis. Rotavirus nonstructural protein 4 (NSP4) has pleiotropic properties and functions in viral morphogenesis as well as pathogenesis. Recent reports show that the inhibition of NSP4 expression by small interfering RNAs leads to alteration of the production and distribution of other viral proteins and mRNA synthesis, suggesting that NSP4 also affects virus replication by unknown mechanisms. This report describes studies aimed at correlating the localization of intracellular NSP4 in cells with its functions. To be able to follow the localization of NSP4, we fused the C terminus of full-length NSP4 with the enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) and expressed this fusion protein inducibly in a HEK 293-based cell line to avoid possible cytotoxicity. NSP4-EGFP was initially localized in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) as documented by Endo H-sensitive glycosylation and colocalization with ER marker proteins. Only a small fraction of NSP4-EGFP colocalized with the ER-Golgi intermediate compartment (ERGIC) marker ERGIC-53. NSP4-EGFP did not enter the Golgi apparatus, in agreement with the Endo H sensitivity and a previous report that secretion of an NSP4 cleavage product generated in rotavirus-infected cells is not inhibited by brefeldin A. A significant population of expressed NSP4-EGFP was distributed in novel vesicular structures throughout the cytoplasm, not colocalizing with ER, ERGIC, Golgi, endosomal, or lysosomal markers, thus diverging from known biosynthetic pathways. The appearance of vesicular NSP4-EGFP was dependent on intracellular calcium levels, and vesicular NSP4-EGFP colocalized with the autophagosomal marker LC3. In rotavirus-infected cells, NSP4 colocalized with LC3 in cap-like structures associated with viroplasms, the site of nascent viral RNA replication, suggesting a possible new mechanism for the involvement of NSP4 in virus replication.
doi:10.1128/JVI.02167-05
PMCID: PMC1472611  PMID: 16731945
17.  Live-cell imaging of Aspergillus nidulans autophagy 
Autophagy  2013;9(7):1024-1043.
We exploited the amenability of the fungus Aspergillus nidulans to genetics and live-cell microscopy to investigate autophagy. Upon nitrogen starvation, GFP-Atg8-containing pre-autophagosomal puncta give rise to cup-shaped phagophores and circular (0.9-μm diameter) autophagosomes that disappear in the vicinity of the vacuoles after their shape becomes irregular and their GFP-Atg8 fluorescence decays. This ‘autophagosome cycle’ gives rise to characteristic cone-shaped traces in kymographs. Autophagy does not require endosome maturation or ESCRTs, as autophagosomes fuse with vacuoles directly in a RabS (homolog of Saccharomyces cerevisiae Ypt7 and mammalian RAB7; written hereafter as RabSRAB7)-HOPS-(homotypic fusion and vacuole protein sorting complex)-dependent manner. However, by removing RabSRAB7 or Vps41 (a component of the HOPS complex), we show that autophagosomes may still fuse, albeit inefficiently, with the endovacuolar system in a process almost certainly mediated by RabARAB5/RabBRAB5 (yeast Vps21 homologs)-CORVET (class C core vacuole/endosome tethering complex), because acute inactivation of HbrA/Vps33, a key component of HOPS and CORVET, completely precludes access of GFP-Atg8 to vacuoles without affecting autophagosome biogenesis. Using a FYVE2-GFP probe and endosomal PtdIns3P-depleted cells, we imaged PtdIns3P on autophagic membranes. PtdIns3P present on autophagosomes decays at late stages of the cycle, preceding fusion with the vacuole. Autophagy does not require Golgi traffic, but it is crucially dependent on RabORAB1. TRAPPIII-specific factor AN7311 (yeast Trs85) localizes to the phagophore assembly site (PAS) and RabORAB1 localizes to phagophores and autophagosomes. The Golgi and autophagy roles of RabORAB1 are dissociable by mutation: rabOA136D hyphae show relatively normal secretion at 28°C but are completely blocked in autophagy. This finding and the lack of Golgi traffic involvement pointed to the ER as one potential source of membranes for autophagy. In agreement, autophagosomes form in close association with ring-shaped omegasome-like ER structures resembling those described in mammalian cells.
doi:10.4161/auto.24483
PMCID: PMC3722313  PMID: 23722157
autophagosome; phagophore; intracellular traffic; nitrogen starvation; Rab; SNARE; Atg8
18.  Localization and Membrane Topology of Coronavirus Nonstructural Protein 4: Involvement of the Early Secretory Pathway in Replication▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(22):12323-12336.
The coronavirus nonstructural proteins (nsp's) derived from the replicase polyproteins collectively constitute the viral replication complexes, which are anchored to double-membrane vesicles. Little is known about the biogenesis of these complexes, the membrane anchoring of which is probably mediated by nsp3, nsp4, and nsp6, as they contain several putative transmembrane domains. As a first step to getting more insight into the formation of the coronavirus replication complex, the membrane topology, processing, and subcellular localization of nsp4 of the mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) were elucidated in this study. Both nsp4 proteins became N glycosylated, while their amino and carboxy termini were localized to the cytoplasm. These observations imply nsp4 to assemble in the membrane as a tetraspanning transmembrane protein with a Nendo/Cendo topology. The amino terminus of SARS-CoV nsp4, but not that of MHV nsp4, was shown to be (partially) processed by signal peptidase. nsp4 localized to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) when expressed alone but was recruited to the replication complexes in infected cells. nsp4 present in these complexes did not colocalize with markers of the ER or Golgi apparatus, while the susceptibility of its sugars to endoglycosidase H indicated that the protein had also not traveled trough the latter compartment. The important role of the early secretory pathway in formation of the replication complexes was also demonstrated by the inhibition of coronaviral replication when the ER export machinery was blocked by use of the kinase inhibitor H89 or by expression of a mutant, Sar1[H79G].
doi:10.1128/JVI.01506-07
PMCID: PMC2168994  PMID: 17855519
19.  The nsp2 Replicase Proteins of Murine Hepatitis Virus and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Are Dispensable for Viral Replication 
Journal of Virology  2005;79(21):13399-13411.
The positive-stranded RNA genome of the coronaviruses is translated from ORF1 to yield polyproteins that are proteolytically processed into intermediate and mature nonstructural proteins (nsps). Murine hepatitis virus (MHV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) polyproteins incorporate 16 protein domains (nsps), with nsp1 and nsp2 being the most variable among the coronaviruses and having no experimentally confirmed or predicted functions in replication. To determine if nsp2 is essential for viral replication, MHV and SARS-CoV genome RNA was generated with deletions of the nsp2 coding sequence (MHVΔnsp2 and SARSΔnsp2, respectively). Infectious MHVΔnsp2 and SARSΔnsp2 viruses recovered from electroporated cells had 0.5 to 1 log10 reductions in peak titers in single-cycle growth assays, as well as a reduction in viral RNA synthesis that was not specific for any positive-stranded RNA species. The Δnsp2 mutant viruses lacked expression of both nsp2 and an nsp2-nsp3 precursor, but cleaved the engineered chimeric nsp1-nsp3 cleavage site as efficiently as the native nsp1-nsp2 cleavage site. Replication complexes in MHVΔnsp2-infected cells lacked nsp2 but were morphologically indistinguishable from those of wild-type MHV by immunofluorescence. nsp2 expressed in cells by stable retroviral transduction was specifically recruited to viral replication complexes upon infection with MHVΔnsp2. These results demonstrate that while nsp2 of MHV and SARS-CoV is dispensable for viral replication in cell culture, deletion of the nsp2 coding sequence attenuates viral growth and RNA synthesis. These findings also provide a system for the study of determinants of nsp targeting and function.
doi:10.1128/JVI.79.21.13399-13411.2005
PMCID: PMC1262610  PMID: 16227261
20.  SARS Coronavirus nsp1 Protein Induces Template-Dependent Endonucleolytic Cleavage of mRNAs: Viral mRNAs Are Resistant to nsp1-Induced RNA Cleavage 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(12):e1002433.
SARS coronavirus (SCoV) nonstructural protein (nsp) 1, a potent inhibitor of host gene expression, possesses a unique mode of action: it binds to 40S ribosomes to inactivate their translation functions and induces host mRNA degradation. Our previous study demonstrated that nsp1 induces RNA modification near the 5′-end of a reporter mRNA having a short 5′ untranslated region and RNA cleavage in the encephalomyocarditis virus internal ribosome entry site (IRES) region of a dicistronic RNA template, but not in those IRES elements from hepatitis C or cricket paralysis viruses. By using primarily cell-free, in vitro translation systems, the present study revealed that the nsp1 induced endonucleolytic RNA cleavage mainly near the 5′ untranslated region of capped mRNA templates. Experiments using dicistronic mRNAs carrying different IRESes showed that nsp1 induced endonucleolytic RNA cleavage within the ribosome loading region of type I and type II picornavirus IRES elements, but not that of classical swine fever virus IRES, which is characterized as a hepatitis C virus-like IRES. The nsp1-induced RNA cleavage of template mRNAs exhibited no apparent preference for a specific nucleotide sequence at the RNA cleavage sites. Remarkably, SCoV mRNAs, which have a 5′ cap structure and 3′ poly A tail like those of typical host mRNAs, were not susceptible to nsp1-mediated RNA cleavage and importantly, the presence of the 5′-end leader sequence protected the SCoV mRNAs from nsp1-induced endonucleolytic RNA cleavage. The escape of viral mRNAs from nsp1-induced RNA cleavage may be an important strategy by which the virus circumvents the action of nsp1 leading to the efficient accumulation of viral mRNAs and viral proteins during infection.
Author Summary
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus (SCoV) is the causative agent of SARS. The nsp1 protein of SCoV blocks host protein synthesis, including type I interferon, a general inhibitor of virus replication, in infected cells. This finding suggests that SCoV nsp1 protein plays a key role in the severe symptoms that accompany SARS infection. Nsp1 binds to the 40S ribosome subunit, which is an essential component for protein synthesis, and inactivates the translation activity of the ribosome. Furthermore, nsp1 binding to the 40S ribosome induces the modification of host mRNAs, leading to the accelerated decay of these RNAs in SCoV-infected cells. We found that the nature of nsp1-induced RNA modification was RNA cleavage and that nsp1 did not recognize specific nucleotides in host mRNAs to induce this cleavage. Interestingly, nsp1 did not induce RNA cleavage in SCoV mRNAs. These data indicate that nsp1 induces RNA cleavage of host mRNAs to suppress the expression of host genes, including those having antiviral functions; yet viral mRNAs are spared from such cleavage events, which, most likely, facilitate efficient SCoV protein synthesis and virus replication in infected cells.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1002433
PMCID: PMC3234236  PMID: 22174690
21.  Accumulation of Autophagosomes in Semliki Forest Virus-Infected Cells Is Dependent on Expression of the Viral Glycoproteins 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(10):5674-5685.
Autophagy is a cellular process that sequesters cargo in double-membraned vesicles termed autophagosomes and delivers this cargo to lysosomes to be degraded. It is enhanced during nutrient starvation to increase the rate of amino acid turnover. Diverse roles for autophagy have been reported for viral infections, including the assembly of viral replication complexes on autophagic membranes and protection of host cells from cell death. Here, we show that autophagosomes accumulate in Semliki Forest virus (SFV)-infected cells. Despite this, disruption of autophagy had no effect on the viral replication rate or formation of viral replication complexes. Also, viral proteins rarely colocalized with autophagosome markers, suggesting that SFV did not utilize autophagic membranes for its replication. Further, we found that SFV infection, unlike nutrient starvation, did not inactivate the constitutive negative regulator of autophagosome formation, mammalian target of rapamycin, suggesting that SFV-dependent accumulation of autophagosomes was not a result of enhanced autophagosome formation. In starved cells, addition of NH4Cl, an inhibitor of lysosomal acidification, caused a dramatic accumulation of starvation-induced autophagosomes, while in SFV-infected cells, NH4Cl did not further increase levels of autophagosomes. These results suggest that accumulation of autophagosomes in SFV-infected cells is due to an inhibition of autophagosome degradation rather than enhanced rates of autophagosome formation. Finally, we show that the accumulation of autophagosomes in SFV-infected cells is dependent on the expression of the viral glycoprotein spike complex.
doi:10.1128/JVI.06581-11
PMCID: PMC3347313  PMID: 22438538
22.  Antibacterial autophagy occurs at PtdIns(3)P-enriched domains of the endoplasmic reticulum and requires Rab1 GTPase 
Autophagy  2011;7(1):17-26.
Autophagy mediates the degradation of cytoplasmic components in eukaryotic cells and plays a key role in immunity. The mechanism of autophagosome formation is not clear. Here we examined two potential membrane sources for antibacterial autophagy: the ER and mitochondria. DFCP1, a marker of specialized ER domains known as ‘omegasomes,’ associated with Salmonella-containing autophagosomes via its PtdIns(3)P and ER-binding domains, while a mitochondrial marker (cytochrome b5-GFP) did not. Rab1 also localized to autophagosomes, and its activity was required for autophagosome formation, clearance of protein aggregates and peroxisomes, and autophagy of Salmonella. Overexpression of Rab1 enhanced antibacterial autophagy. The role of Rab1 in antibacterial autophagy was independent of its role in ER-to-Golgi transport. Our data suggest that antibacterial autophagy occurs at omegasomes and reveal that the Rab1 GTPase plays a crucial role in mammalian autophagy.
doi:10.4161/auto.7.1.13840
PMCID: PMC3039730  PMID: 20980813
autophagy; DFCP1; Rab1; Salmonella; ER-to-golgi trafficking
23.  Identification and Characterization of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Replicase Proteins 
Journal of Virology  2004;78(18):9977-9986.
The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) encodes proteins required for RNA transcription and genome replication as large polyproteins that are proteolytically processed by virus-encoded proteinases to produce mature replicase proteins. In this report, we generated antibodies against SARS-CoV predicted replicase protein and used the antibodies to identify and characterize 12 of the 16 predicted mature replicase proteins (nsp1, nsp2, nsp3, nsp4, nsp5, nsp8, nsp9, nsp12, nsp13, nsp14, nsp15, and nsp16) in SARS-CoV-infected Vero cells. Immunoblot analysis of infected-cell lysates identified proteins of the predicted sizes. Immunofluorescence microscopy detected similar patterns of punctate perinuclear and distributed cytoplasmic foci with all replicase antibodies and as early as 6 h postinfection. Dual-labeling studies demonstrated colocalization of replicase protein nsp8 with nsp2 and nsp3 in cytoplasmic complexes and also with LC3, a protein marker for autophagic vacuoles. Antibodies directed against mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) virions and against the putative RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (Pol) detected SARS-CoV nucleocapsid and nsp12 (Pol), respectively, in SARS-CoV-infected Vero cells. These results confirm the predicted protein processing pattern for mature SARS-CoV replicase proteins, demonstrate localization of replicase proteins to cytoplasmic complexes containing markers for autophagosome membranes, and suggest conservation of protein epitopes in the replicase and nucleocapsid of SARS-CoV and the group II coronavirus, MHV. Further, the results demonstrate the ability of replicase antibodies to detect SARS-CoV-infected cells as early as 6 h postinfection and thus represent important tools for studies of SARS-CoV replication, inhibition, and diagnosis.
doi:10.1128/JVI.78.18.9977-9986.2004
PMCID: PMC514967  PMID: 15331731
24.  Characterization of autophagosome formation site by a hierarchical analysis of mammalian Atg proteins 
Autophagy  2010;6(6):764-776.
Autophagy is an intracellular degradation process, through which cytosolic materials are delivered to the lysosome. Despite recent identification of many autophagy-related genes, how autophagosomes are generated remains unclear. Here, we examined the hierarchical relationships among mammalian Atg proteins. Under starvation conditions, ULK1, Atg14, WIPI-1, LC3 and Atg16L1 target to the same compartment, whereas DFCP1 localizes adjacently to these Atg proteins. In terms of puncta formation, the protein complex including ULK1 and FIP200 is the most upstream unit and is required for puncta formation of the Atg14-containing PI3-kinase complex. Puncta formation of both DFCP1 and WIPI-1 requires FIP200 and Atg14. The Atg12-Atg5-Atg16L1 complex and LC3 are downstream units among these factors. The punctate structures containing upstream Atg proteins such as ULK1 and Atg14 tightly associate with the ER, where the ER protein vacuole membrane protein 1 (VMP1) also transiently localizes. These structures are formed even when cells are treated with wortmannin to suppress autophagosome formation. These hierarchical analyses suggest that ULK1, Atg14 and VMP1 localize to the ER-associated autophagosome formation sites in a PI3-kinase activity-independent manner.
doi:10.4161/auto.6.6.12709
PMCID: PMC3321844  PMID: 20639694
autophagosome; PI3-kinase; isolation membrane; endoplasmic reticulum; ULK
25.  Connexins modulate autophagosome biogenesis 
Nature cell biology  2014;16(5):401-414.
The plasma membrane contributes to formation of autophagosomes, the double-membrane vesicles that sequester cytosolic cargo and deliver it to lysosomes for degradation during autophagy. In this study, we have identified a regulatory role for connexins (Cx), main components of plasma membrane gap junctions, in autophagosome formation. We have found that plasma membrane-localised Cx proteins constitutively downregulate autophagy via a direct interaction with several autophagy-related proteins involved in the initial steps of autophagosome formation such as Atg16 and components of the PI3K autophagy initiation complex (Vps34, Beclin-1 and Vps15). On nutrient starvation, this inhibitory effect is released by the arrival of Atg14 to the Cx-Atg complex. This promotes the internalization of Cx-Atg along with Atg9, which is also recruited to the plasma membrane in response to starvation. Maturation of the Cx-containing pre-autophagosomes into autophagosomes leads to degradation of these endogenous inhibitors, allowing for sustained activation of autophagy.
doi:10.1038/ncb2934
PMCID: PMC4008708  PMID: 24705551
Autophagy; Connexins; Gap junctions; Lysosomes; Plasma membrane

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